The world remembers John Wayne as cinema’s quintessential cowboy whose roles embodied the American values of his time. Jennifer Wayne inherited her famous grandfather’s spirit and looks — as well as plenty of stories about him. And, now, she’s starting to share more about the true character of the man behind the iconic screen image.
Behind the scenes, John built a big family. He married three times, and his unions to Josephine Alicia Saenz and Pilar Palette produced seven children in total. With Josephine, he had sons Michael and Patrick, and daughters Mary and Melinda. Then came John, Aissa and Marisa, his brood with Palette.
With seven children, it’s no surprise that John had tons of grandkids, too. The Academy Award-winning actor had 26 in total, some of whom he never got the chance to meet before his death in 1979. However, that doesn’t mean that the late star doesn’t share a connection with the family he left behind — including his granddaughter, Jennifer.
And Jennifer didn’t want to keep the stories about her famous grandfather all to herself. Instead, she’s shared tales of her childhood and family memories that keep John’s spirit alive. And her memories paint an entirely different picture of the Hollywood star known for his True Grit and idealized cowboy values.
On April 1, 1982, Aissa Wayne and Earl Lawrence Kuhle II welcomed their daughter, Jennifer. She joined an illustrious Hollywood family helmed by her late grandfather, John Wayne. Their lives didn’t overlap — he passed away three years before Jennifer’s birth. But that didn’t mean he wasn’t a big part of her family life.
Jennifer told Risen magazine that, even in childhood, she knew she wanted to pursue a career in the arts — just like her famous grandfather. For her, though, it wasn’t the silver screen that called to her. She explained, “I’ve loved music since I was little,” but she couldn’t pursue her passion right away.
Instead, Jennifer’s father, Earl, pushed her to play one particular sport instead. She explained, “With my dad, music wasn’t really an option; it was tennis, tennis, tennis.” It wasn’t for nothing, either — John Wayne’s granddaughter ascended the ranks to become a professional player.
For Jennifer, though, it was always about the music — so, she waited until adulthood to pursue it. She said, “When I turned 18, I thought, ‘Okay, I’m 18 now, I can do what I want!’ So, I got a guitar and started playing music.” And luckily, she had some help from the extra-large Wayne family, chock-full of her grandfather’s descendants.
Her mom, Aissa’s sister Marisa, helped Jennifer spark her music career. She explained how her aunt “was the only musical one in my family and she had moved to Nashville at one point and pursued singing for a while.” Therefore, she could provide tips and advice for a then-aspiring musician like Jennifer.
And, while she was still a tennis star, Jennifer’s tennis buddies — and beaus — pushed her to pursue her passion too. She once dated Bob Bryan, who played doubles alongside his brother, Mike. The athletically gifted family also played music together with the brothers on piano and drums and their dad on the guitar.
The Bryan family patriarch implored Jennifer to sing with them. She recalled, “I was so shy and at first didn’t want to do it, but when they were playing one day, he called me up on stage, and literally made me get up there and sing. I was so nervous, but I did it!” From there, the group would play small gigs together — and that became Jennifer’s first taste of singing in a band.
That experience came to fruition with Jennifer reaching adulthood, which allowed her to ditch the tennis court for country pastures. She told website Nash Country Daily that, after she turned 18, she followed in her aunt Marisa’s footsteps. Jennifer said, “I had always wanted to be a songwriter, so I moved to Nashville. That’s how I got here, I didn’t know anyone, I just moved here.”
Before musical stardom, though, Jennifer got the chance to compete on the reality show, The Amazing Race, on two separate seasons. Prior to the 2013 installment of the series, the musician told CBS, “My grandpa is John Wayne. Hopefully I got a little bit of his toughness.”
In the end, Jennifer didn’t win The Amazing Race, but, on one of her attempts, she and her partner missed out on the million-dollar prize by only four seconds. Luckily, though, the best was still to come for her — at least in music, which was her greatest passion of all.
In 2016, Jennifer formed the musical group Runaway June with fellow musicians Naomi Cooke and Hannah Mulholland. The country trio found that their voices melded together perfectly. As Jennifer explained, “[Naomi] sounds really good in the middle. Hannah sounds really good on the lower register and mine is good on the higher register. So it just kind of works. We feel like that’s the sweet spot for all of our voices.”
The girls met in Nashville, and Hannah and Jennifer would write music together. It took the former Amazing Race star to meet Naomi and bring her into the fold to form the trio. They chose to give their band the name Runaway June, which spoke to each one of their histories and the way life brought them together.
Jennifer explained, “My grandma’s name is June, Naomi has a sister named June, Hannah went on a 25-day hike that she’d always wanted to go on in June, and we signed our record deal in June. It’s just kind of a lucky month for us. And we’re all runaways… we ran away from home to chase this crazy dream.”
Runaway June got the chance to join country pop singer-songwriter Carrie Underwood on her Cry Pretty Tour 360 from May to October 2019. In the same year, the trio released their first album, Blue Roses. And, although they’ve appeared on the Billboard charts, too, it hasn’t all been easy for the band.
On May 14, 2020, Runaway June announced that Hannah would be departing from the band. And the next day, the band named her replacement as Natalie Stovall. Such changes couldn’t shake Jennifer, though, as she told Risen magazine that she knew she was pursuing her life’s purpose.
Jennifer said, “I know I’m supposed to be doing music because it’s in me. I feel like our music has great, real messages, because what we sing about is real and what we really believe in. Our intentions are taking any kind of success we achieve and then doing some good with it.”
It wasn’t just in her career that Jennifer’s true grit shone through. The singer also faced some tough times in her personal life that became public knowledge. On December 28, 2016, she announced her engagement to fellow country star William Michael Morgan. But less than four months later, they called off their impending nuptials.
But Jennifer took it all in stride — cool and confident, just like her cowboy grandfather. She shared a photo of her engagement ring-free hand to Instagram, captioning the picture with lyrics from a Runaway June song, “Lipstick.” She wrote, “If you’re gonna love somebody… yeah you better love somebody, who ruins your lipstick, not your mascara.”
This type of level-headedness fits right into the Wayne family mentality. Before Jennifer shared her favorite stories about her grandfather, her mother, aunts and uncles spoke to AARP, The Magazine. There, they shared some of their most memorable moments with their father — and he was just as cool off-screen as he was while cameras rolled.
Jennifer’s mom, Aissa, recalled a time she had a friend over to play — and she stepped on her purposefully. The attorney said, “I was kind of a tomboy, and my dad liked that. But she went screaming to my dad, who was inside with some grownups. I followed her in, and my dad, who was large and loud, demanded, ‘Did you step on her head?’”
But John Wayne wasn’t necessarily angry with her actions — he just wanted honesty. Aissa continued, “I hesitated, and then he said, much more quietly, ‘Come here. If you lie to me, you’re gonna disappoint me and you’re gonna go to your room and you’re gonna be punished. If you tell the truth, well, you’re still gonna be punished, but I’m not gonna be disappointed in you.’”
With that, young Aissa decided to tell her father the truth about the stomping. He accepted her honesty without question. The attorney recalled, “Then it was over. He never rehashed it. That’s the kind of father he was.” And he showed the same grace with his daughter Marisa.
When she was nine, Marisa accepted her father’s offer to go swing golf clubs at a driving range. But John Wayne’s daughter wasn’t a natural, so she kept missing the ball. Then, she finally hit something, a much bigger target — she accidentally whacked her father in the head with her club.
John went to the hospital, where he made a joke of the situation to his young, scared nine-year-old. He said to Marissa, “Well, you’re the only one who had the nerve to do this to me!” And the Academy Award winner continued to chuckle about the accident after the fact. He even stopped calling his daughter by her original nickname, Princess, in favor of a more relevant moniker, Nine Iron.
Unfortunately for Jennifer, she missed meeting her grandfather by just a few years. Nevertheless, her family made sure to share their best stories about the famous actor. And, like the tales her mother, aunts and uncles told, the Runaway June singer’s memories don’t disappoint — whether you’re a huge John Wayne fan or not.
Firstly, Jennifer told Risen how it wasn’t particularly strange to grow up knowing her granddad was famous, as she always knew his Hollywood status. What was weird, though, was how she’d talk to other kids about their grandmothers and grandfathers. She revealed, “I would always ask the other kids, ‘What channel is your grandpa on?’”
Jennifer asked that, of course, because her grandfather was always on the same TV channel — AMC. She explained, “I could just turn it on [and see him]! So, I’d always ask what channel their grandpas were on because I didn’t know that it was any different.” Still, that wasn’t her favorite memory of John Wayne.
The interviewer went on to ask Jennifer what her best-loved story about Wayne was. She said she had “so many favorite stories,” but she landed on one particular tale “because it’s so cute.” The Runaway June singer began by explaining, “So, my grandfather absolutely loved the mornings.”
Apparently, John Wayne loved mornings so much that Jennifer said, “he would get up and watch the sunrise every morning and he wanted everyone else to be up with him.” This included his children — as well as Jennifer’s mom, Aissa. To coax her out of bed, he’d tell her, “Get up! You’re burnin’ daylight!”
John Wayne fans will recognize that the actor used the same quote in some of his films, such as The Cowboys, but that’s not why Jennifer loved the story. Instead, she continued, saying, “Well, this one time when my mom was still a young girl, they were on his boat and my mom had brought her best friend on the trip.”
Jennifer said that her mom’s boat-based bedroom had bunk beds, and Aissa chose the same spot to sleep every time. As she explained, “There were bunk beds in my mom’s room and my mom always slept on the bottom bunk.” However, on this particular trip, she let her friend take the lower bed instead.
So, the early-rising John Wayne came in the next day to alert his daughter to the requisite sunrise. Because he always found her in the bottom bunk, he didn’t think twice about how he woke her up. Jennifer said, “My grandpa came in […], went to the bottom bunk and slapped my mom’s best friend on the butt and said, “Get up! You’re burnin’ daylight!’”
Of course, Aissa’s friend was shocked by being slapped awake. Jennifer said, “My mom’s friend screamed and jumped up and said, ‘Mr. Wayne!’ When they all realized what happened, my mom and grandpa and her friend just laughed and laughed. He was so embarrassed that he slapped someone else’s butt that he thought was his daughter.”
But Jennifer’s favorite stories weren’t all funny ones — there were heart-warming ones, too. She recalled, “My mom also said that there was a rule in the house that if you walked by him, you had to give him a kiss. He was so affectionate and loving with his family. He was such a family man.”
Over the years, Jennifer has clearly come to admire her grandfather, even if she didn’t get the chance to meet him. She has also taken in some of his flicks — and has been able to choose her favorite quotes of his, too. Surprisingly, her selection wasn’t, “Get up! You’re burnin’ daylight!’”
Instead, Jennifer landed on a quote that defined both her and her grandfather’s true grit. She said, “My favorite quote of his is, ‘Courage is being scared to death, but saddling up anyway.’ It’s my favorite because it means everything to me when it comes to going for your dreams. He certainly went for his dreams and look what happened.”